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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Daniel 1

Verse 1

This chapter gives the historical setting (Daniel 1:1,2), introduces the four Hebrew young men whose deeds are featured in Daniel (Daniel 1:3-7), tells how these "four" did not wish to violate God's dietary rules and requested that they may eat only those things which God allowed (Daniel 1:9-13), reports how after an experimental period often days, the steward complied with their request (Daniel 1:14-16), and relates that as a result of their loyalty to God, they were blessed exceedingly and were granted the right to "stand before the king" (Daniel 1:17-21).

Daniel 1:1-2

"In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim King of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God; and he carried them into the land of Shinar to the house of his god: and he brought the vessels into the treasure-house of his god."

It is easily observed that the volume of comments against a given passage of God's Word on the part of Bible critics often exhibits an inverse ratio to the reasonableness of their arguments. The more unbelievable their arguments are, the greater is the volume of them. Nothing could be any more certain than the historical accuracy of the passage before us, but reminding us of that "river" out of the serpent's mouth (Revelation 12:15), Biblical enemies have literally tried to wash this passage away with their denials.

The first attack is based on the fact that Jeremiah placed this event in "the fourth year of Jehoiakim" (Jeremiah 25:1). "Daniel, however, evidently employed the Babylonian method of reckoning, in which the first year is regarded as following the year of the king's accession to the throne."[1] "Jehoiakim came to the throne at the end of a year, which Jeremiah reckoned as a year; but Daniel did not count it as it was an incomplete year."[2] Dummelow allowed that both statements were "correct" because the first year of Nebuchadnezzar lay partially in both the third and fourth years of Jehoiakim.[3] Of course, this variation of a single year in the sacred records, however it can be explained, is of no consequence. As Barnes put it, "It is not material."[4]

Another objection raised against this first verse is that the first expedition against Jerusalem by Nebudchadnezzar took place about the time of the battle of Carchemish (May or June, 605 B.C.);[5] and the fact of Nebuchadnezzar's being here called "king of Babylon" is labeled as an "error," because Nebuchadnezzar did not actually become king of Babylon until 604 B.C.[6] As anyone should know, "This is a prolepsis."[7] Here is another example: President Eisenhower was born in Dennison. President Eisenhower led the invasion of Europe, etc. Critics are hard pressed for an error to focus upon something like this.

We appreciate the words of Owens who said: "All the bits of information given here are individually true; but they are put together in a general sense."[8]

All such quibbles about the alleged "errors" are pointless. The big point of the passage is that because of the repeated and continuing rebellions of Israel and her kings against the will of God, God at last sent the whole nation into captivity exactly as the prophet Jeremiah had foretold (Jeremiah 4-6). There were in fact no less than three expeditions of Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem, in all three of which captives were carried away; and the passage before us refer to the first of these occasions, which was not documented on pagan records. On this pretext, up until very recently, as late as 1956, critics were boldly claiming the account here was "a historical blunder."[9] That slander, however, has been laid to rest; because, "As recently as February, 1956, the ancient documents were first published which now proved full historical support for Nebuchadnezzar's presence in Judah at exactly this time."[10]

We have explored this far enough to see that the arrogant charge which denies any historical accuracy to verses like this is a gross and irresponsible error. Arthur Jeffery stated that, "Daniel 1:1 is only a literary device; strict historical accuracy is not important. It is here to prove a setting for the story, not to provide historical information!"[11] We reject such views.

It is of interest that Nebuchadnezzar's name, as found here and occasionally in other parts of the Old Testament, is alleged to be misspelled, the true spelling being Nebuchadnezzar. Our usage will conform to the spelling in Daniel. Owens stated that, "There are various spellings of this name in the Old Testament."[12] In light of this, therefore, how weak is the allegation of the same author that, "the Daniel of Ezekiel 14:14,20 cannot be the youth of the Book of Daniel," evidently basing his argument upon the fact that "the names are spelled differently."[13] If the misspelling of a name in the Old Testament is grounds for such conclusions, then we may have half a dozen Nebuchadnezzar's!

"Shinar ..." (Daniel 1:2) is a very ancient name for Babylon (Genesis 10:10; 11:2); and the appearance of that name here makes it certain that no forger of the times of the Maccabees wrote this book. People in that age did not use this name for Babylon.

Verse 3

"And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring in certain of the children of Israel, even of the seed royal, and of the nobles; youths in whom was no blemish, but well favored, and skilled in all wisdom, and endued with knowledge and, understanding science, and such as had ability to stand in the king's palace; and that he should teach them the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. And the King appointed for them a daily portion of the king's dainties, and of the wine which he drank, and that they should be nourished three years; that at the end thereof they should stand before the king. Now among these were, of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. And the prince of the eunuchs gave names unto them: unto Daniel he gave the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and of Azariah, of Abed-nego."

It is strangely pathetic to find the names of these precocious young princes of Israel among the eunuchs of the king of Babylon. Now eunuchs were usually persons who had been emasculated; and, although it is true that there were sometimes eunuchs merely in the sense of "officers" of the king, the situation here does not lend itself to such an explanation. These young men were not officers: at all but captives; and we agree with Culver that, "Them is great possibility that Daniel and his friends may have been emasculated."[14] We favor this view because of Isaiah's prophecy:

And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of Jehovah. Behold the clays come, that all that is in thy house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith Jehovah. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, whom thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon (2 Kings 20:16-18).

As for the reasons why the names of these men were changed by their Babylonian masters, several motives could have caused it: (1) Hebrew names being unfamiliar to the Babylonians, they replaced them with names they could more easily remember and pronounce. (2) A definite hostility to the religion of the Hebrews is also evident. They replaced names which were derived from the true God through the use of syllables meaning Yahweh, or Jehovah, with Babylonian names which either honored Babylonian pagan gods, or in some way might have been derogatory. Note the following:

Daniel means "God is my judge."[15]

Hananiah means "Yahweh hath been gracious."[16]

Mishael means "Who is what E1 is?"[17]

Azariah means "Yahweh has helped."[18]

The names given in Babylon to these men had the following meanings:

Belteshazzar means "Bel (a pagan god) protects his life."[19]

Shadrach means "The command of Aku (the moon god)."[20]

Meshach means "Who is this?"[21]

Abednego means "Servant of the god Nabu."[22]

From this it is easy to see that the purpose of the names included the desire to eradicate all traces of the Hebrew religion and replace them with names honoring Babylonian pagan gods.

The development of this paragraph shows that these particular Hebrew young men, along with an undetermined number of others, were enrolled in a three-year course of study to master the wisdom, the learning, and the language of the Chaldeans. They were honored by such an opportunity. Among other privileges, they enjoyed being fed from the king's kitchen.

Verse 8

"But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king's dainties, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore, he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. Now God made Daniel to find kindness and compassion in the sight of the prince of the eunuchs. And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your food and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse looking than the youths that are of your own age? So would ye endanger my head with the king. Then said Daniel to the steward whom the prince of the eunuchs had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the youths that eat the king's dainties; and as thou seest, deal with thy servants."

It should be remembered that there were other children of Israel besides these particular four who were also given the same opportunities; but the record reveals that only these decided to abide by the rules of the law of Moses regarding the eating of unclean things. "God's people were here facing a situation where it had to be absolute loyalty to God or they were lost. It is the same situation which Christians face today."[23] Of all those who were given the opportunity, only these four remained faithful to God.

Defilement through eating the king's dainties was "ceremonial defilement" as outlined in the Mosaic law. The meats which formed, no doubt, a major part of the king's food would have been dedicated to idols after the pagan customs that continued even until the days of the apostles. All of the wonderful things which happened in the Book of Daniel were the result of the blessing of God upon these faithful young men who would not permit themselves to be led into violation of the Holy Scriptures.

It is interesting to note that Daniel received favor from the authorities whom he petitioned to allow a diet which did not violate their consciences. It would appear that God Himself intervened to give Daniel the necessary preference to make the granting of his wish possible.

"Pulse ... (Daniel 1:12). This word does not mean simply "peas, or legumes," but "It would refer to all plants that bear seeds."[24]

It has often been pointed out that there is no mandate here for vegetarianism. There would in all probability have been no scruples whatever on the part of the four young men against eating meat, except for the great likelihood of any meats which the king would have provided for them having been sacrificed to idols, or, at any rate, not kosher.

Others have been equally diligent to affirm that the refusal of the wine did not indicate a denial that wine was an acceptable part of the diet for Jews generally. On the other hand, these young Hebrew students might very well have refused the wine on the grounds of its being detrimental and harmful. There are many today who refused to drink alcohol for the same excellent reason. We know of no way that Nebuchadnezzar's wine would not have been kosher.

Verse 14

"So he hearkened unto them in this matter, and proved them ten days. And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer, and they were fatter in flesh, than all the youths that did eat of the king's dainties. So the steward took away their dainties, and the wine that they should drink, and gave them pulse."

The inadequacy of the Hebrew language, especially with regard to tenses of verbs, is evident in the rendition in Daniel 1:16, where "the wine that they should drink" actually means "the wine they would (or should) have drank."

The steward ran little or no risk at all in complying with Daniel's request; because, if the experiment had not been successful, he could have altered the diet accordingly. God blessed Daniel and his companions; and, basing his actions on the appearance of the four, the steward promptly changed their diet according to Daniel's request.

Millard noted that "fatness" is used here in a somewhat different sense from the connotation of the word in our day. It does not mean obesity. "It indicates sufficiency and prosperity through the Old Testament."[25] We do not know whether Daniel was inspired to request this change of diet, or if he did it solely upon his inner conviction of what was right or wrong. We believe that it sprang out of Daniel's attitude of faith and devotion; but the results surely proved that God indeed approved of his action.

Occasionally, the inquiry is raised as to how there could have been more danger of pollution to these Hebrew youths in eating the king's food than there was in being schooled in all the knowledge of the Babylonians, but, as Leupold said," such a view comes form a failure to comprehend the issues."[26] In the first place, the "learning of the Chaldeans" was a very extensive field, embracing studies in astronomy, architecture, languages, and magic, but even the "magic" at that point in history was not the "black art" that developed later. On the other hand, there was not merely the possibility of defilement in eating meat sacrificed to idols; to have done so would have violated the plain commandments of the law of Moses.

Verse 17

"Now as for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. And at the end of the days which the king had appointed for bringing them in, the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king communed with them and among them all there was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore stood they before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding, concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in his realm. And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus."

The statement in Daniel 1:17 regarding Daniel's understanding of visions and dreams is apparently introduced here as a foreshadowing of events about to be related.

"And at the end of the days ..." (Daniel 1:18). This means at the end of the three-year period of training. "The king communed with them ... (Daniel 1:19)." This examination by the king corresponded to the "oral examination" which candidates for certain higher degrees are required to pass today in many universities. From the standpoint of Daniel and his companions, the occasion was a great success. They passed the test with highest honors and was appointed to begin their service in the palace of the king.

Thomson was impressed with the very fact of the hero of this book, Daniel, and his associates diligently studying to excel in Chaldean learning, and then upon completion of the course, willingly, and apparently joyfully accepting assignment in the king's palace. He pointed out that it is utterly impossible to suppose that this book was written to encourage the Jews and to provide examples of how Jews should act in the days of their dealings with the vicious beast of a ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes.[27] Also, "The mention of visions and dreams is an accurate reflection of the Babylonian background of the Book of Daniel."[28]

"The magicians ..." (Daniel 1:20)." This word occurs only seven times in the Old Testament: here, and in Genesis 41:8,24; Exodus 7:11,22; 8:7; 9:11.[29]

"And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus ..." (Daniel 1:21)." This does not mean that Daniel died that year, for in Daniel 10:1, we find that Daniel was still active and in high standing in the third year of king Cyrus. What is meant is that, "Daniel's career spanned the entire period of the seventy years captivity of Israel."[30] The chronology of this was cited by Owens. "The first year of Cyrus as king over Babylon was 538 B.C. which was slightly less than 70 years after Daniel was taken to Babylon."[31] Add the two more years indicated in Daniel 10:1, where it is said that Daniel was active in the "third year" of Cyrus, and it is clear that all throughout the 70 years captivity, God's representative in the person of Daniel stood quite near to the throne of world authority. Thus, the providence of God watched over the Chosen people even in their bitter punishment.

The fact just cited fails little short of being an unqualified miracle. Throughout more than two thirds of a century, Daniel continued serenely above all of the intrigues and treacheries always identified with the court of oriental kings, prevailing over the inevitable jealousies that existed everywhere, and especially against a despised foreigner in high office. He lived to see a whole dynasty of Babylonian kings ascend the throne, continue awhile, and fade away. He even lived to see the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus! Only the special providence and blessing of the Father could have caused such a thing to happen.

We must not leave this chapter without remembering why Israel was sent into captivity. Such a dreadful punishment was meted out to them because for 490 years they had not observed the sabbatical years as commanded in the law of Moses. Therefore God brought upon them the king of the Chaldeans who deported the whole nation, "Until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths; for as long as it lay desolate it kept sabbath to fulfill threescore and ten years!" (2 Chronicles 36:21).

It seems nearly incredible that Bible critics would allege "a contradiction between verse 21 and Daniel 10:1, assuming that verse 21 meant that Daniel died in the first year of Cyrus. The word "until" never means arbitrarily that the person or action under consideration did not continue after the time indicated. For example, when Jacob told Pharaoh that, "Thy servants have been keepers of cattle until this day" (Genesis 46:37), the last thing on earth that Jacob could have meant was that the Jews on that day were going out of the cattle business! Culver noted that, since the last year of the captivity coincided with the first year of Cyrus, that year was mentioned here as indicated that Daniel continued in favor throughout the whole period of the long captivity. He add that, "This is the most natural understanding of the verse (21)."[32]

There is built into Daniel a very strong presumptive proof of its having been written before the captivity of Israel ended. If that were not true how can it be explained that no mention of the "return" is found in this book? "This is one of the strongest evidences of the authenticity of Daniel."[33] It is a climax of the unreasonable to suppose that if Daniel was written in the days of the Maccabean struggle as an encouragement to the Jews in those bitter times, there would have been no mention of the return of Israel from the Babylonian captivity, the features of which are so prominent in Daniel.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Daniel 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.